Union Carbide Corp. (Houston)

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A globally recognized name in engineering, manufacturing and distribution of fine polymers, Union Carbide has been in continuous existence since 1917. In that year stock from several smaller companies, including Linde Air Products Company, National Carbon Company Inc., and Prest-O-Lite Co. Inc., was purchased and the newly formed corporation became known as the Union Carbide and Carbon Company.

Within two years the company had filed their first patent application for the commercial preparation of ethylene, and soon became a leader in the petrochemical industry. The plastics firm Bakelite Corporation merged with Union carbide in 1939, and the company opened plastic manufacturing plants in Texas over the next dozen years. The name of the company was officially changed to Union Carbide Corporation in 1957.

In the 1960s, Union Carbide purchased the latex manufacturer Lennat Corporation, continued to expand its number of production facilities, and became one of the most profitable developers of specialty chemicals and plastics. Two decades later, its major investment in metals came to an end as the company divested its interests in partner, BP Chemicals in Europe.

The 1984 chemical leak, explosions, and great loss of life at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India made world headlines and is considered one of the great environmental disasters in all of history. Nonetheless, Union Carbide has continued to grow as a corporation, and has diversified further in the areas of chemical research and polymer technology. Since 2001 the company has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemicals.

Prior to 1985, Union Carbide was a manufacturer of Calidria asbestos, most of which was mined in the central California area near Fresno. The company supplied the extracted asbestos to manufacturers of ceiling tiles, wall insulation, and specialized safety clothing. Asbestos was also used in the insulation of pipes and wiring conduit at most of Union Carbide’s own facilities. Thousands of lawsuits against Union Carbide and its parent company Dow Chemicals brought about the end of all asbestos in the company’s products as well as the mining operation itself. Dow Chemicals assumed responsibility for addressing the medical claims made by those who had previously worked for Union Carbide and were exposed to asbestos fibers in the workplace.

Asbestos can cause of a variety of cancerous disorders, especially the malignancy known as mesothelioma. Symptoms of this disease often do not show for many years after exposure to asbestos fibers, and some of the large number of former employees who filed claims against Union Carbide often had not worked for the company in over a decade. The resulting actions did not force Union Carbide into bankruptcy; Dow Chemicals continues to respond to claims regarding asbestos exposure to this very day.

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